The personal touch still a factor in real estate deals formed by pandemic response

The COVID-19 pandemic has not bypassed the residential real estate market.

Drive-by assessments? Virtual showings? Remote closings? All yes.

Disposable booties at walk-throughs? Those, too.

Nothing beats showing or visiting a house in-person. Those picked up once shelter-in-place went away, but agents and realty firms have incorporated tools like Zoom video and Facebook Live to stave off anxiety.

"No matter what you sort of believe, the buyers are hesitant and the sellers are hesitant. It's mutual. None of the buyers are being flip about this. Everybody's taking it very seriously," said Kati Spaniak of eXp Realty in Northbrook.

When Illinois' lockdown occurred, the Glenbrook North graduate feared she might not sell another house this year.

Over the past month, "the market has skyrocketed," said Spaniak who, using FaceTime, sold a million-dollar home to a buyer who didn't physically visit it until closing.

As always, supply and demand drives the market, impacted by pandemic response but now also by unsettling events in the nearby big city.

The good news, said Jeff Benach, principal of Lexington Homes, was that unlike during the 2008 crash "the fundamentals of the economy are all still strong."

"This did actually put a pin in (the market) to a degree, but it certainly didn't kill it, nothing like 2008," Benach said.

To foster sales of single-family homes at the Parkside of Glenview development at Willow and Landwehr roads, Lexington homes stocked up on gloves and masks, instituted a five-person limit on model visits, increased cleaning and used online aids.

The company set up virtual tours of all models with 360-degree views available on its website. Clients could meet with sales people through Zoom to discuss a property or join a virtual walk-through.

Benach said the virtual approach did well but foot traffic has increased.

"I think at the end of the day people still have to see a house at least once with their eyes as opposed to on a screen," he said.

Forty-year residential real estate veteran Connie Fuller of Baird & Warner Glenbrook agrees - though she's sold a house solely off a virtual tour.

The "Fuller Force" - Connie, her son, Bryce, and daughter-in-law, Lori - have used Facebook Live and YouTube for showings of single-family homes, townhouses and condominiums.

She's still bulked up on personal protective equipment, booties included, for personal visits. She appreciates the seller who leaves the lights on.

"Even though we give (visitors) gloves, it's still very nice," Connie Fuller said.

"I think a lot of people are extremely frightened with their house on the market because they don't want a bunch of people traipsing through and touching everything and breathing in their house, so it's kept the inventory down quite a bit," she said.

"It's pretty limited, there's not a huge amount of properties, so if people are looking to really buy because they have to move the interest rates are very low, but the inventory is low, so it's actually keeping the prices pretty steady. There's actually been multiple offers going on," she said.

Spaniak, who had a client bid $50,000 over list price without winning the deal, said another factor has fueled market surge.

Between a life-altering pandemic and safety considerations, people are fleeing Chicago.

"The city is no longer a viable option for them," Spaniak said. "It's just not the right place for their families anymore."

Low inventory equals fast sales. But Keller Williams Success Realty broker Natalie Chrobak said the combination of all these factors, plus possibly reduced or stay-at-home staff, has delayed property inspections, closings and created "drive-by appraisals."

She said tools such as Facebook Live and virtual open houses "have been wonderful." Basically the entire process can be done remotely.

"However, I do still hope we can go back to what was once normal," Chrobak said.

"Our job as a real estate agent is to help you find your next new home or sell your current one, and that is a very personal process.

"Your home is where you see your kids grow up, or move away. It's where you build your life. We as real estate agents love to work on that personal level."

  M/I Homes is building a multi-unit residential development on Techny Road in Northbrook. While the coronavirus pandemic certainly has affected the residential real estate market, this isn't like the crash in 2008. "The fundamentals of the economy are still strong," another builder said. Joe Lewnard/
  During the pandemic, Realtors set up virtual tours of models with 360-degree views available on their websites to help sell homes. Joe Lewnard/
  Clients looking to buy a new home could meet agents for showings on Zoom, Facebook Live, FaceTime and other apps. Joe Lewnard/
  The inventory of homes for sale has been low, probably because people are afraid to have people they don't know touring their house, one agent said. Joe Lewnard/
  A real estate sign in the yard of a home for sale at the intersection of Cherry Lane and Western Avenue in Northbrook. Joe Lewnard/
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